Friday 15 December 2017

French Derby switch could be on cards for Chaucer

Geoffrey Chaucer, here winning last season's Beresford Stakes under Joseph O'Brien, could spearhead the Ballydoyle assault on the French Derby. Photo: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE
Geoffrey Chaucer, here winning last season's Beresford Stakes under Joseph O'Brien, could spearhead the Ballydoyle assault on the French Derby. Photo: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE
Richard Forristal

Richard Forristal

Aidan O'Brien has left open the intriguing possibility of diverting his Derby plunge horse Geoffrey Chaucer from Epsom to Chantilly this Sunday.

Beaten for a first time in three starts in a messy edition of the Derrinstown Stud trial behind Fascinating Rock and Ebanoran, the Montjeu colt is a half-brother to Shamardal, which won the first Prix du Jockey Club run over the current 10-furlong trip in 2005.

Last week, his price halved from 12/1 into as low as 6/1 for Epsom behind his odds-on stable-mate Australia. Saturday week's showpiece remains his likeliest target, but he has eased to a high of 8/1 over the past couple of days.

The decision to leave Geoffrey Chaucer in Sunday's French equivalent might partly explain that drift, while O'Brien can also choose from last weekend's smart Gallinule Stakes winner Adelaide and the Irish 2,000 Guineas fourth, Johann Strauss.

When discussing the Group One at the weekend, the Ballydoyle genius seemed decidedly cool on it, pointing to the increased disadvantage of being drawn wide since the trip was shortened from the traditional 12-furlong Derby distance.

However, along with Sunday week's Prix de Diane, commonly known as the French Oaks, the Prix du Jockey Club remains one of the few notable omissions on O'Brien's stellar record.

On Sunday, his team began to finally find their stride, as Marvellous' striking Irish 1,000 Guineas triumph formed the middle leg of a stable treble.

The Galileo filly has since been well-supported into 5/1 for the Oaks at Epsom on Friday week and her win under Ryan Moore will have been especially welcome for the Co Tipperary firm, which hasn't had to wait until the mile fillies' Classic to break its Group One duck for a year since re-emerging as a Flat superpower in 1996.

If the sounds emanating from Rosegreen are remotely accurate, the matter of Australia securing O'Brien an unprecedented third successive Derby coup is increasingly viewed as a formality. That might yet tempt the Wexford-born handler to point some heavy artillery France's way, as he will be eager to make up for lost time in a season that follows one in which he failed to hit double figures in Group Ones for a first time since 2004.

Marvellous' success constituted O'Brien's 28th in the four Irish Classics – the St Leger has not come under that banner since it ceased to be a three-year-olds-only affair in 1983 – but he has yet to win a race at Chantilly.

He saddled Super Pistachio to be third in the 2009 Prix du Jockey Club, a race that has not gone to an Irish-trained horse since Carleon obliged for his Ballydoyle predecessor and namesake, Vincent, in 1983. A year earlier, Vincent's son David won it with Assert.

If O'Brien does try to claim his fifth French Classic and a 35th Gallic win at the highest level, the opposition is sure to be strong.


Jonathan Pease's French 2,000 Guineas hero Karkontie is expected to line out, with Kevin Ryan's Dante victor The Grey Gatsby also among the 21 left in the race.

Tomorrow, Ballydoyle will be represented by El Salvador and Ryan Moore in the Henry II Stakes at Sandown. Philip Hobbs' dual Grade One-winning jumper Menorah makes its Flat bow for Kieren Fallon in the two-mile Group Three, with Tom Dascombe's Brown Panther also on duty.

Michael Stoute's Hillstar, second to Brown Panther in the Ormonde Stakes at Chester, reverts to 10 furlongs for the Brigadier Gerard Stakes under Moore. Paddy Power make him the 2/1 favourite to account for four rivals, including John Gosden's 11/4 shot Remote, a year-older brother of Irish 2,000 Guineas hero Kingman that completed a hat-trick in a Royal Ascot Group Three last June.

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